Discussion Topic

Aeneas's demonstration of pietas in the first half of the Aeneid

Summary:

Aeneas demonstrates pietas, or duty, in the first half of the Aeneid by prioritizing his responsibilities to the gods, his family, and his destined role as the founder of Rome. He consistently puts his personal desires aside, such as when he leaves Dido in Carthage to fulfill his divine mission, showing his commitment to duty over personal happiness.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Where does Aeneas show pietas in the first half of the Aeneid?

Pietas is the Roman quality of devotion to duty and family, as well as loyalty to the gods and one's country.

A chief example of pietas—and its lack—emerges in the story of Dido and Aeneas. Dido, the queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, journeying to Rome after the fall of Troy, fall in love. Aeneas shows pietas when he puts following what the gods have fated for him, the founding of Rome, ahead of his personal love for Dido. He is faithful to the gods and to his people, doing his duty ahead of indulging his desires.

Dido, in contrast, is consumed by her love for Aeneas, neglecting her civic duties and belittling the will of the gods. More than once, Virgil likens her love to a consuming fire. Fittingly enough, after Aeneas leaves her, she commits suicide by throwing herself on a funeral pyre. She shows the evil of not putting duty first.

Another example of pietas occurs earlier. As Aeneas is recounting the fall of Troy to Dido, Pyrrhus's inhumane slaughter of Priam shows a lack of pietas or honor. Aeneas's concern for his own family and his condemnation of Pyrrhus's excess reveals his own pietas or restraint in doing his duty. Aeneas stands "apart, devoted to his mission," not to vengeance.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss one of the examples of pietas that Aeneas exhibits in The Aeneid.

Virgil, like Homer, gives his characters epithets, which often precede their names. Achates is always faithful, and Aeneas is always pious, even when he is not obviously displaying this particular quality. The Latin word pietas is not precisely analogous to the English word "piety," but it certainly has religious overtones. It means doing your duty to the gods, your country, your parents, and the spirits of your ancestors.

Pietas make Aeneas far more purposeful than any of the Greek heroes, with the possible exception of Hector. Throughout the poem, he is driven by the commands of the gods. The episode that most clearly displays this is one which modern readers often consider discreditable: his desertion of Dido in book IV. It is certainly arguable that Aeneas's initial relationship with Dido is a failure of pietas, since he knows he cannot stay with her. However, when he is reminded of his mission by the gods, he promptly deserts Dido, sacrificing his own happiness and hers, as well as her life, in the line of duty. Aeneas is not to receive any particular benefit for his sacrifice. He will never see the city of Rome. The great Roman heroes, like Lucius Junius Brutus, were distinguished by their ability to put aside personal feelings in the service of their country. Aeneas, however, is abandoning the woman he loves for a country which does not even exist yet, one of the strongest possible examples of pietas.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Does Aeneas in the first half of the Aeneid successfully demonstrate the benefits of pietas over furor?

In his Aeneid, Virgil explores the continual conflict between pietas and furor. Let’s define those terms and see how they are played out in the first half of the poem so that you can decide if Aeneas shows the benefits of pietas over furor.

Pietas, in the sense of the Latin meaning, is more then piety as we think of it in English. Pietas refers to a strong sense of duty, loyalty, and love. It means being faithful to the gods, to one’s family, to one’s companions, and to one’s country. It can also mean accepting one’s fate as ordained by the gods and not railing against it but rather working with it.

Furor, on the other hand, is uncontrolled passion that rages without thought. It is what often happens in the midst of war, and it is sometimes symbolized by natural forces like storms.

In the first half of the poem, Aeneas is shown to possess pietas in many ways. He is loyal to his father and his companions as they leave Troy and set out for their new homeland. He realizes that fate is guiding him, that the gods have ordained him to found a new city. He is opposed, however, by the furor of Juno, who hates the Trojans and would kill them if possible to keep them from someday destroying Carthage. Juno’s furor is shown in the great storm that she has Aeolus blow up to try to destroy the Trojans, but Neptune calms the sea and allows Aeneas and his companions to continue on his way.

Aeneas, too, at times succumbs to the furor that threatens to divert him from his ordained course. This happens when he gives in to his passions. We see Aeneas in war against the Greeks, for instance, so mad with battle that his mother, the goddess Venus, has to stop him and remind him that his duty is to save the survivors of Troy and take them to their new home. Aeneas becomes entwined in the furor of love (or more probably lust) when he enters into a relationship with Dido of Carthage. Again, furor threatens to drive Aeneas off course, and he must make a decision. In the end, he chooses pietas, duty, loyalty to the Trojans, and the fulfillment of his ordained role over his affair with Dido.

We can see, then, that at least in the first half of the poem, Virgil does show the benefits and even triumph of pietas over furor. But things will change in the poem’s second half.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on